Introduction: How to Make a Cardboard Model Ship

About: I am a student in high school who loves to make things!

In this instructable, I will show you how to make a model ship.

I made this because I have always wanted to make one, I did try to make one when I was far younger than now (I still have the relics), and, frankly, it didn't come out as good as I had hoped, so, it became a personal matter to make a better one, and these are the results.

I hope that you enjoy making this! (If you do decide to make this).

P.S. I took the photo with a powerful fan behind the ship, it would have zoomed along the floor if I had let go (hand is not in picture), now if only I find some way to attach wheels, it would become a terrestrial ship!

Step 1: A Few Words

Before beginning, I would like to admit a few horrible mistakes I made while building this ship. I do this so that you do not make the same mistakes-

  1. The ship is too short; increase it's height.
  2. The ship is too narrow; increase it's width.
  3. The masts are too wide; make them more narrow.
  4. The paint is horrible.

NOTE: All the instructions and measurments in the following steps contain all of the mistakes I mentioned above (includes those which I might have missed). Make sure not to replicate these while building this.

Step 2: Needed Materials

You will need these materials to make the ship-

  • Cardboard (I recommend single-collated, I only had double collated)
  • Scissors (or some other similar cutting tool)
  • Glue (I used wood glue because I had nothing else)
  • Threads (I lost my black thread before I could use it)...
  • Tape (not necessary, but helpful)
  • Sanding paper (I didn't use one, but I recommend you to do so)
  • Pencil/pen
  • Lots of tissue paper or newspaper (not necessary nor pictured)
  • Paint and paintbrush (not pictured)
  • Cloth (will be used to make the sails, so don't choose a bright red, not pictured).
  • Paper
  • Steel wire (almost any other hard and straight thing will do)
  • A needle
  • A stapler (optional)

By now, you might have gathered (from these brackets) that I was hard put to find some of the above materials, so, unfortunately, the final result wasn't too good either. I know you'll probably do better.

Step 3: The Main Body

To make the main body, first, take a look at the PDF image called 'Main body' below and draw it again on cardboard (the image is not to scale and is a bit cut off, the dimensions need not be exact). The lines which are cut off join together to form a point (in case you didn't guess). NOTE: One of the lines which is cut off has a length written as 9cm, it is wrong, make it about 13-14cm.Cut out 2 of these.

Glue the two pieces together so they look like the image, I suggest holding them together with tape as this area will be exposed to a lot of force. Also, note that this structure will be unstable even after the glue has dried.

When the glue has considerably dried, look at the triangle which is formed by the two tips and... well, see image for reference. Cut out a piece slightly thinner than this triangle (make the smallest angle smaller by about 2 degrees). The smallest side should be about 4cm. Don't glue this on yet (yes, it goes on the triangle in the picture).

As you might have figured out, we will be covering the rest of the body with some similar techniques as this (in case you haven't, see images). Next, this is important, measure the size of the rectangle you will need for the next part, the one that is perpendicular to the ground, and cut it out. Now glue it in, remember that the piece goes inside the ships, to better maintain the shape of the ship, refer to images, also, while tracing the shape, remember to take the dimensions for the inside of the ship, otherwise the width of the cardboard might be some trouble (see images).

The rest of the pieces which will cover the rest of the boundary need to be cut out in a similar way, they need not always go inside the cardboard, just remember that the width of the pieces should eventually get to about 5 - 6.5cm, so if you were to put a ruler across the ship, it should be at least 5cm.

I'm sorry that I can't explain this better because this is way I did it, assuming that you have completed this boundary, let us move on (images tell more).

NOTE: The bottom of the ship is optional, but it will give more stability. If you are making the bottom, try tracing the shape instead of measuring it, and yes, make the bottom at the end.


1) After the pieces have dried, the ship might slightly lean on one side, this will disrupt it's balance on later steps, just trim the bottom of the side of the ship opposite to where it leans before attaching the bottom of the ship.

2) Most of the pieces will not be rectangular, but slightly trapezoid.

Step 4: Adding Rigidity

In this step, we will strengthen the body while covering up those holes. The technique used here is one which is often used in paper crafts and probably many of you have seen it before.

Part of this step is optional, so I have divided this into two parts, this part is necessary-

First, trim any projections that the body might have. Then, take some sort of thin paper (newspaper, tissue paper, etc.) and tear it up into the size of the pieces shown. Using glue cover up those holes (if you have any) and all the places where the cardboard pieces join together, before the glue dries, cover all exposed glue with those torn pieces of paper, do this at least two times.

Optional part-

Repeating the above process, cover the rest of the ship with paper, I recommend at least 3 layers. This will also help you to paint the ship later.

After using the newspaper, I found that it didn't look good, so I added a layer of white paper.

When I added the paper, I got a nasty shock, as you can see from the picture, it looked horrible, so, I added a layer of paper tape. If you know a better way of doing this, then please don't use this way.

P.S. - Sorry for the gaps in the pictures.

Step 5: First Paint

Before going any further, I decided that I would paint the body and see how it would look and make necessary changes, because it might have been difficult to do that later. All this step contains are the instructions 'paint ship', and that's exactly what you have to do, of course, you can always skip this step for later. I recommend 2 coats, my paint ran out after only one.

It turned out that adding that tape gave the ship a more wooden look by mimicking planks, now, I recommend you to do the same, also, adding that white paper was good, it slightly shows up below the paint and adds to the illusion.

Step 6: Masts...

In this step, as the name suggests, we are going to make the masts of the ship.

I used rolled paper for them because I didn't have sufficiently long tubes, also, the masts need to be slightly conical ending in a sharp top.

Roll three conical tubes of height 40cm, 20cm and 17cm, the base radius for all should be about 1.5cm (the one which is 17cm long should have about 1cm, and, the one which is 40cm long should have it's top radius about 0.7cm) and top radius should be about 0.1cm. Make some vertical cuts as shown, each cut should be about 2cm long, then fold the strips inwards and glue them together.

NOTE: You can also fold the strips outwards, only that would ruin more paint.

Glue the masts where shown, the locations need not be exact, put them where they look good. While drying, I recommend putting the ship flat against the ground and giving some support to the masts.

VERY IMPORTANT NOTE: All the lengths shown (except the height of the masts) here are mere approximations, you can choose whatever you like.

Step 7: Details

So far, I have avoided the details of the ship, all of which we shall cover in this step.

Things which this step (and others) explain-

  • Cabins (includes railings) (optional)
  • Gaffs and booms (support for the sails) (I hope I am getting the names right) (required)
  • Crow's nest (optional)
  • Bowsprit (required)


  1. Take a measurment of the space left behind the middle-sized mast (back of ship), subtract about 2cm from this (I will call this measurment 'L').
  2. Measure the width of the ship behind the middle-sized mast and subtract about 2cm from this (I will call this measurment 'W').
  3. Cut out rectangles of these sizes -- L x W (1), W x 4cm (2), L x 4m (2). The numbers in the brackets tell you the number of pieces to cut out (I hope I was clear).
  4. (Optional) cover them with paper tape.
  5. Cut out shapes that resemble (see pictures) doors out of one of the W x 4cm pieces, you can cut windows too, but I had no means of cutting a square hole in a double collated cardboard. My finger is already swollen with using my blunt scissor.
  6. Assemble and glue the pieces as shown.


  1. Measure the length of the areas where the railings will go (see pictures).
  2. Cut out a cardboard piece as shown whose length is the length of the railings required (take height as whatever you want).
  3. (Optional) cover the railings with paper tape.
  4. Glue them on.
  5. Before going on, I decided to give the ship another layer of paint, this is NOT the last layer of paint.
  6. NOTE: When I attached the railings, I realized that I had made the ship too thin, so don't make that mistake.

Gaffs and booms:

    This is already getting too long, so I took the rest to the next step.

    Step 8: Gaffs and Booms

    I decided to paint the ship again before proceeding.

    First, unbend the wire as much as you can, the tiny errors (if there are any) will be hidden, so don't try too hard. Then glue the wire as shown. Using a thread or string, tighten the bond (look in pictures).

    Take more straight pieces of wire and glue them in the places shown, again, I remind you that the dimensions need not be exact.


    1. The lengths I used are mentioned in the pictures.
    2. Two pieces of wire will be used for the masts at the left and right, the mainmast will require four.
    3. The distance I placed the wires from each other is also mentioned in the pictures.

    Step 9: The Crow's Nest

    Make tiny slits at the top of the mainmast as shown and bend them in.

    Cut a circle of cardboard of radius of about 1.7cm. Glue this circle on top of the slits you just folded. Roll up some paper and tape it to get a cylinder of radius of about 1.5cm (slightly less than the radius of the other circle) and a height of about 6.5cm, cut some slits in it as shown and folding them in, glue this on top of the mainmast.

    Take a wire of length of about 14cm and glue/tape it on the inside of the paper cylinder you made earlier. You can hang flags from this.

    Step 10: Bowsprit

    Fold a thin paper cylinder of length of ~15cm, see pictures for reference. Cut slits of ~0.8cm along it's edge. Place the cylinder on the tip of the ship as shown and adjust the angle to match the one in the picture. Glue it down, I recommend using lots of tape as this will prevent the bowsprit (what the paper cylinder has become) from sagging down. Remove the tape (if you have used any) after the glue dries.

    Step 11: Last Paint

    Before making the sails, I decided to paint the ship again, just because the paint could spoil the sails if done afterwards.

    All you have to do in this step is to paint your ship, this will be the last layer, so finish everything up nicely.

    I am sorry that I forgot to take a picture in this step.

    Step 12: The Sails (1)

    Take your cloth (not the one you are wearing) and draw lines on it, what lines, you might ask, see the pictures to get a better idea. Each of the three sails will be slightly trapezoid, each of the parallel sides corresponding to slightly more than the length of the wires you put up earlier. How to draw each of the sails-

    1. Measure the bottom wire of a sail, add about 2cm to it and draw a line of that length upon your cloth.
    2. Measure the distance between your sails and add about 7cm to it. Put a point in the middle of the line you drew earlier and starting from this, draw a line of length equal to what you measured earlier at 90 degrees.
    3. Measure the top wire of a sail, add about 2cm to this and draw a line of this length parallel to the one you drew in the first step.
    4. Hopefully, you will have done this correctly and got 4 points that vaguely resemble a trapezium. Join these.
    5. Cut, repeat for the other two sails.

    See picture for more details.

    Step 13: The Sails(2)

    In this step, I will tell you how to attach the sails to each of the wires.

    1. Place the top part of the cloth you just cut on the top wire and fold about 1cm (fold should be horizontal) inside. Secure with a stapler or glue.
    2. Repeat with the bottom part.
    3. Now, the ends of the sails should be sticking about 1cm away from the wires. Fold these inside (fold should be vertical) and secure with a stapler or glue.
    4. Repeat for every sail.

    Step 14: The Rigging

    For the rigging, take your needle and tie it's blunt end to one end of the thread. You will be doing this 6 times. Here each step requires a single piece of thread, however long, connect the locations separated by semi-colons by one piece of thread in their correct order. Cut off the end and tie them away after each step, you also have to cut off the needle and tie it on another piece of thread (am I clear on this step?).

    1. Tip of bowsprit; top of mainmast; tip of bowsprit; top of smallest mast; tip of bowsprit.
    2. Top of smallest mast; top of mainmast; top of the last mast; end of the top wire on the last mast;

      top of the last mast; other end of the top wire on the last mast; top of the last mast.

    3. Top of the main mast; now connect the thread to each end of the wire on it as in the previous step; top of the smallest mast; now connect the thread to each end of the wire on it as in the previous step.
    4. The back-left end of the body of the ship; top of the last mast; the back-right end of the body of the ship.
    5. Top of the main mast; left end of the bottom wire on the last mast (leave some slack); right end of the bottom wire on the last mast; top of the main mast (leave some slack).
    6. Top of the smallest mast; left end of the bottom wire on the main mast (leave some slack); right end of the bottom wire on the main mast; top of the smallest mast.

    And that's done!

    Step 15: Disclaimer

    I know how hard-to-follow these steps must have been. I apologize for this. This is my first instructable and thus, not that perfectly-made.

    If you critisize the look of this ship, then I will tell you the things I started out with, the overall 'before and after' factor. OKAY, it could have come off better just because I didn't want to replace a horrible-looking part (like those conical masts). Whatever you think doesn't look good, remove it, come up with a better. On the whole, I may be good at designing things, but I am not that good when making them in real life, or making them look appreciable, or maybe I am just plain lazy.

    At least, I can say that for my first instructable, this came off wonderfully.

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